Cumberland Times-News

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April 18, 2013

County pulls plug on McCoole fire department

CUMBERLAND — The McCoole Volunteer Fire Department, nearly a million dollars in debt, will no longer be called by the county to respond to emergencies, Allegany County Emergency Services Board officials said Thursday.

Debt was not the only concern at the department, said Dick DeVore, the chairman of the emergency board.

“We will be viewing it as McCoole has ceased operation,” DeVore said. “We will place McCoole out of service.”

Arrangements have been made with the Potomac, Rawlings and Keyser fire companies to provide coverage for McCoole.

“We are committed to basic fire protection for McCoole,” DeVore said.

McCoole residents interested in serving as volunteers will be able to join the other departments, who have agreed to loosen membership requirements.

DeVore discussed the decisions by the board with Allegany County commissioners at their Thursday work session at county offices on Kelly Road.

DeVore said the decision was not a reflection on the department or its members, who have served the county for 60 to 70 years.

“This is not something we take lightly ... our hands are tied. ... We are certainly not bashing the membership,” DeVore said.

“This was a difficult decision for the board.”

The only way the county could help McCoole would have been a significant infusion of cash, DeVore said. The department is about $900,000 in debt and has a $10,000 operating deficit.

Department members suggested a fire tax, but DeVore said that was an unrealistic plan to move forward. DeVore said there was no significant hope to resurrect the department.

Department members told DeVore there had not been a business meeting in eight months due to lack of a quorom.

Insurance on the sole remaining fire truck had also lapsed, and the fire station is in foreclosure, DeVore said. The department had only four active members and has little community support.

Because the department is an independent corporation, the county cannot actually dissolve the department, but the department will no longer be called by dispatchers, DeVore said. He said the emergency services board had been monitoring the McCoole situation for some time.

One of the problems for the department was that a previous revenue stream, bingo, had dried up.

DeVore said the board is asking for financial documentation from the department for the last three years covering, among other things, county funds, grants and government monies going into the department and records of how the money was spent.

Emergency officials are hoping a McCoole resident will step forward to become a liaison between the community and county emergency officials as they develop a long-term plan for McCoole fire services.

The county consider a McCoole sub-station at some point, DeVore said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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